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31 December 2014 - Jonathan’s visit (Colombia - Panama/San Blas Islands)
13 December, Jonathan flew in from Halifax to stay with us for a few weeks. We have been trying to get him to come and visit us for two years, but he finally squeezed us into his busy calendar.
We showed him around Santa Marta and he quickly got acclimatized to the difference in heat and humidity. We waited a few days for weather and then left Santa Marta, bound for Portobello Panama on 16 December. We had an absolutely wonderful sail, wind on the starboard quarter. Much to our delight, Jonathan read a lot, particularly on passage.
Naturally, we saw dolphins……
Several times, we sailed through large masses, or floating islands of “sea-grapes”. It was an interesting natural phenomenon, with lots of small fish evidently hiding underneath.
As we were closing in on the San Blas Islands, the wind was dying down and in order to make our anchorage before nightfall (the San Blas Islands are absolutely treacherous at nighttime) we had to motor. So, at 0230 on 19 December, I started up the engine only to hear a loud rumbling noise, at any engine speed. My first assumption was that it was fishing line, ropes or weeds wrapped around the propeller and/or shaft. However, having a look at this in the middle of the night, in a seaway, with the swell about 3-5 feet - was very unappealing. After listening to the rumbling noise for about 20 minutes, I finally caved in and decided to have a look. I got out my mask, snorkel and fins, diving flashlight and safety line. I tied myself to the boat and dropped in the water, holding onto the swim platform. With my flashlight, I could see looking forward from the swim platform that the problem was obvious - the skeg and rudder had a wrapping of “sea grapes”, stuck like velcro. The steering was unaffected but this put a mass of sea grapes just behind the propeller, therefore - the rumbling noise. I easily cleared the mass with my hands, but working behind the swim platform was very dangerous. The swim platform was heaving up and down in the swell, crashing down about every 8 seconds. I had to be very careful not to get my skull cracked! Jonathan and Diane were nearby, but it was risky business.
After clearing the sea grapes, we continued on and eventually anchored in the East Hollandes, where we met up with our friends Cathy and Maria on Joana No 1. The next day, we went spear fishing with Cathy and Maria so that we could enjoy a fish feast on their boat in the evening.
20 December, we moved over to Green Island, where we took a wet dinghy ride to Nargana, where Diane bought some groceries (potatoes, sugar, tomatoes, bread, crystophen, wine, beer) and we had a delicious fried chicken/chips lunch.
A case of 24 canned beer was $ 17US in a shop. I’ve heard it is even cheaper on the mainland. I also bought a Digicel SIM card for my Blackberry Z10 phone and after Maria and Cathy helped with the installation - we became Internet enabled (using the mobile hotspot feature, I shared the hotspot with Diane and Jonathan, and my own laptop). That evening, we had a bonfire / lobster / lion fish / marshmallow cookout on shore and burned our garbage at the end in the hot fire.
22 December, we moved over to Yansaladup in the East Lemmons where we were invited aboard for sun-downers with Charlie and Jenny on SV LADY.
The next day, we dinghied (6 nm) over to Porvenir and cleared in. With respect to fees, we paid $ 193US for a year-long cruising permit, $ 300US for visas (3 people, note that fly-ins don’t pay this fee) and $ 45US to the Kuna Indigenous people for the permit to cruise one month in their waters. In total, we paid $ 538US to cruise one month (the first month) in the San Blas. I hate to say it, but this compares very poorly with Bonaire or Curacao, where we paid zero to enter and cruise in their countries. To be honest, the visa is good for six months, and for the next six months we’d only have to pay the Kuna fee of $ 45 per month.
We also dinghy landed at Elephante where we had a beer at the “bar” and enjoyed their Christmas decorations.
25 December, we had a wonderful Christmas dinner on SV Joana No 1, together with Cathy’s father Herk and his wife Lynda. We were anchored at Canbombia, sheltered in the lee of the island and the wind was blowing pretty hard. We also burned garbage ashore again, and enjoyed the company of little Harlan - we thought he was about 8 years old, but he told us he was 12! He didn’t speak any English, by the way
On 27 December, we sailed about 8nm over to Naranga, picked up whatever groceries we could find (tomatoes, yoghurt, eggs, bread, cucumber, lettuce), had lunch in a restaurant and then took our own self guided river tour down Rio Diablo (Devil River).
After about 45 minutes of motoring slowly up the river, we came to a peaceful freshwater pool. This is where we left the dinghy and enjoyed a very refreshing and cool freshwater swim. We didn’t want to swim anywhere near the entrance of the river, in other words - where we were anchored. Jonathan had previously spotted two crocodiles lingering nearby.
Much to our surprise, there seemed to be an “industry” of Kunas paddling up the river to fill up with fresh water (just where we were swimming and local women were washing their clothes). These fellows filled every container they could put in their canoe, and paddled back downstream to Nargana where they sold it, often to cruisers.
Diane and Jonathan stitched together four of the “molas” that we had bought and made up some nice pillows.
Now, Jonathan has something to fill his duffel bag with, since the boat parts he brought down are staying here. The indigenous people that live in the San Blas, the Kuna - all come out to see us in the anchorages showing off their molas for sale. After we bought four, it was tough to say no, but what would we do with them? Some clever Kunas have made their moles into beer “cozys”, and iPad covers.
28 December found us anchored at Green Island again. We bought lobster from the Kunas (5 for $ 20) and put in an order for a case of beer. We don’t usually buy much beer, but with Jonathan onboard, our consumption rate was through the roof. We couldn’t find any beer at all in Nargana a few days ago, so were very happy when the local fishermen returned on 29 December, with our $ 30 case of beer. The price is still very good when we consider what we would have to pay in Canada!
Since being in the San Blas Islands, Diane has seen spotted rays jumping out of the water, Jonathan has seen a few crocodiles, our neighbours have seen a few crocodiles and at least one tiger shark. One comment comes to mind about water clarity. Based on our observations, on a scale of 1 - 10, with perfectly clear water being a 10 (much of the Bahamas for example), I’d rate the water clarity here as only a 5. Maybe that gets better as we get deeper into the dry season (January to July), but right now, its quite poor, although most of our Internet and printed sources raved about the water clarity. Most of the Eastern Caribbean seemed to be much better.
We went snorkelling several times, and these photos weren’t too bad, as far as snorkelling goes.
As we were coming in and out of shallow water, with reefs all around, it was great to have the “Bauhaus” charts on both the boat PC and Diane’s IPAD (in .kaf format) (thanks to Cathy and Maria for that) but it was also of benefit to have Jonathan on the bow, eyeballing the water and talking to Diane at the helm using our “marriage-saver headsets”.
Jonathan will no doubt have fond memories of his Christmas vacation in the paradise of the San Blas Islands.
Now we will have quiet onboard until the third week of February when we expect Diane’s brother John, and his wife Joy to join us (all the way from Rocky Mountain House Alberta to Panama).
13 December 2014 - Farewell to Colombia
We are ready to leave, and Jonathan just arrived this morning.
He’ll be with us until he flies out of Panama on 1 January. So, we have some sailing to do! We haven’t decided yet on what stops we’ll make, but our route will have us sailing out of Santa Marta SW past the Rosario Islands (maybe anchoring) near Cartagena, and then SW more towards the well-known San Blas islands and then on to our final destination at Portobello Panama. We’ve got a 16 day window of time before Jonathan has to catch his flight, but you never know what the weather will be like. At the moment, the wind is from the SW, and we’ll probably have to wait two days for it to revert to the normal trade-winds, from the NE.
In the meantime, I thought I’d bring to closure two boat jobs. First, I’m happy to announce that the long-awaited “replacement of the rusty transom doors” project is now complete. A local contractor (Daniel Castellanos Valencia, 310-6503550) made two new fiberglass doors for me. At a cost of less than $ 900US, these doors are only a fraction of the weight of the previous doors. I reused the door closure/locking mechanism, but did buy new hinges. After cutting away the old rusted doors and hinge material, I had quite a bit of underlying rust that had to be painted with phosphoric acid, epoxy, fairing and polyurethane paint. I’m pleased with the result and very satisfied that it is finally done. We even put on new vinyl letters and that was a bit of a challenge to get them all lined up.
The next project came as a bit of a surprise to us. We bought a new ZODIAC hypalon dinghy while in St Lucia three years ago. Aside from the other shortcomings that I’ve already noted with this dinghy, we now discovered that the plastic paddles attached to the ends of the rowing oars - are completely disintegrating in the sun.
We used to own an AB dinghy and they are manufactured in Barranquilla Colombia - about two hours drive from Santa Marta. I contacted AB on the Internet, and ordered replacement AB paddles (a pair). The cost, including delivery to us at the dock was about $ 50US. The new paddles are a different plastic to what Zodiac had used, a black slippery plastic that we suspect will not disintegrate in the sun. Kudos to AB for making a better product, and one that integrated well with our Zodiac dinghy. Here is a photo showing the old and the new oars, as well as the finished product enveloped in a (Diane fabricated) sun cover - so it will definitely stand up to the tropical sun.
If the weather is right, we’ll be casting off Monday or Tuesday, bound for the San Blas Islands and eventually Portobello Panama. We just paid three local entrepreneurs to scrape the hull bottom (250,000 COP or about $ 125US), so I’d say, we’re ready to go.
30 November 2014 - Cartagena, Colombia
This past week we took a 3 night, 4 day road trip to Cartagena, about 4 hours by bus. Why didn’t we go by boat? We have learned that if we arrived by boat in Cartagena, we’d have to hire another agent, get cleared in and pay a bunch more fees. If we simply left the boat on the dock in Santa Marta, it would be simpler, perhaps not exactly cheaper, but a cleaner solution. Where is Cartagena? About 120 nautical miles SW of Santa Marta.
On the way there, we passed through the very industrial city of Barranquilla, where they manufacture AB Inflatables.
This MacPollo (translates to Mac Chicken) was situated right next to a MacDonalds in Barranquilla. They even deliver!
Cartagena was founded on June 1, 1533, and named after Cartagena, Spain. However, settlement in this region around Cartagena Bay by various indigenous people dates back to 4000 BC. During the colonial period Cartagena served a key role in administration and expansion of the Spanish empire. It was a centre of political and economic activity due to the presence of royalty and wealthy viceroys. In 1984 Cartagena's colonial walled city and fortress were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, nearly 1.2 million people live in Cartagena, although only a fraction live in the old walled city (and obviously, the wealthy ones).
We booked a three night stay at the Hotel Portal De San Diego, a 3-star hotel in the centre of the old walled city. These are a few views from our hotel balcony and the surrounding area.
We took a 1.5 hour walking tour of the old city with Edgar, who started up the business “free tour” of Cartagena. His English and narration was quite good, and yes, we gave a good tip.
The wall that surrounds the old city is one of the best conserved fortifications in the world. It is composed of 11 kilometres of walls, 21 bastions, 7 forts, 13 batteries and 3 breakwaters. The Italian engineer Bautista Antonelli, serving the Spanish crown, started its construction in 1586 to defend the city after the attack of Sir Francis Drake. The project took almost two centuries to be constructed, after numerous storms and pirate attacks. It was finalized in 1796, 25 years after independence from Spain.
St Domingo Plaza was built by the Dominican priests in the XVI century and today is one of the most frequented areas of the city.
Colombia, of course, is named after Christopher Columbus. This statue of Christopher Columbus is a replica of a similar one located in Genoa, Italy and donated in 1897 by the Italian Consul. Here is the statue standing proudly in front of the local Hard Rock Cafe franchise.
Uncharacteristically, we took a very touristic carriage ride. These carriages are in constant movement and the drivers are always trying to get business. I asked one guy “how much?” and he replied “60,000 peso” (about $ 30US), so I offered 50,000 pesos ($ 25US) and he jumped at it. It was a quick and enjoyable way to cover the old city.
Evidently, not everyone is pleased with the tourist carriages. The Mennonites of Southern Ontario wouldn’t like this sign.
There were lots of birds, and not just pigeons. I didn’t bother taking any photos of pigeons or seagulls.
Apparently, over 200 cruise ships a year visit Cartagena, from October to April. I don’t know if a cruise ship was in port while we were there, and I’d rather NOT be in the old city when one visits. The sidewalks are narrow, and crowded with vendors flogging fruit, T-shirts, sunglasses, CDs, DVDs, nail-clippers etc. I didn’t want to take a photo of any vendor, because they’ll charge you $ 5 just to take the photo. Here is a photo of a fruit cart and a talented man who makes beautiful paintings with his right foot (he has no arms or hands). We DID buy one of his little paintings.
Pope John Paul II visited Colombia in 1986, including the city of Cartagena. Of note, during his visit, on behalf of the Catholic Church he apologized for the years of the Catholic Inquisition - something worth reading up about.
While in Cartagena, we thought we’d stop in to have a look at Club Nautico and the anchorage to see if we could see someone we knew. The marina is about a 25 minute walk from our hotel. There was no security on the docks so we easily walked the premises. Our impression of Club Nautico was poor. We’ve heard that they’ve been making improvements for the past three years. Unfortunately, the docks (the docks themselves, electrical and water connections) all look to be in a poor state of repair (they are also fixed, not floating docks). Although it was a windless weekday, the boats in the marina were “lively”, moving around a lot due to the waves of passing boats. The berthed boats (all med moor, none with a side tie) were jammed in pretty tight and many looked like they couldn’t move unless some of their neighbours moved first. The laundry room looked really good but I don’t think its operational yet. The biggest improvement seems to be with the offices and staff areas, with little amenities for the cruisers. There wasn’t even a sign out front. I’m glad we stayed at the Marina in Santa Marta as long as we have and visited Cartagena by bus. Oh, and we didn’t see anyone we knew.
Walking through the old walled city, I took interest in the wide variety of door knockers. Our guide told us that in the old days, many of these door knockers had significance, for example - an owl would represent a wise man. Nowadays, I don’t think that is the case, but here are 11 that I photographed.
All in all, we enjoyed our 3 day visit to Cartagena, and now look forward to returning “home” to our boat, berthed in Santa Marta.
12 November 2014 - Santa Marta, Colombia
OK, another couple of weeks in Colombia. We are definitely acclimatized to our surroundings by now and I’ve got some boat projects underway.
First, a little history - The Spanish first arrived in Colombia in 1499 and New Granada (Colombia) won independence from Spain in 1819. Venezuela and Ecuador left in 1830 and the “United States of Colombia” was formed in 1863. This led to the Republic of Colombia in 1886 (nearly its present form). Panama seceded in 1903, leaving the country as we know it now. As a follow-up to our trek to the Lost City, we’ve been to the Museo Del Oro (Museum of Gold) TAIRONA - which has a free entrance. This is a really nice museum, in air conditioned comfort, where we saw some of the artifacts of the Lost City.
Prior to arriving in Colombia, I was well aware of the events in recent history (through the 1960s and peaking in the 1990s) where Colombia became a world leader in the production and distribution of cocaine, and also the para-military groups that had come to control this industry. In very recent times, Colombia used to be a very dangerous place and in addition to murder, many tourists have been kidnapped and held for large ransom. Those incidents diminished greatly starting in 2002 and Colombia has made great strides in clamping down on this lawless behaviour and is now working on raising its tourist profile.
Colombia is known as the second most mega-diverse country in bio-diversity, ranking behind Brazil which is nearly seven times larger in surface area. As for plants, the country has approximately 45,000 plant species, equivalent to nearly 20% of total global species. Colombia has about 2,000 species of marine fish and is the second most diverse country in freshwater fish. They also have more endemic species (species not found anywhere else) of butterflies, number 1 in terms of orchid species and approximately 7,000 species of beetles. Colombia is second in the number of amphibian species and is the third most diverse country in reptiles and palms. There are about 2,900 species of mollusks and according to estimates there are about 300,000 species of invertebrates in the country.
Colombia is rich in natural resources, and its main exports include mineral fuels, oils, distillation products, precious stones (emeralds), forest products, flowers (70% of cut flowers imported by the United States are from Colombia), pulp and paper, coffee, meat, cereals and vegetable oils, cotton, oilseed, sugars and sugar confectionery, fruit and other agricultural products, food processing, processed fish products, beverages, machinery, electronics, military products, aircraft, ships, motor vehicles, metal products, ferro-alloys, home and office material, chemicals and health related products, petrochemicals, agrochemicals, inorganic salts and acids, perfumery and cosmetics, medicaments, plastics, animal fibres, textile and fabrics, clothing and footwear, leather, construction equipment and materials, cement, and software. I’ve read that the export of coal has overtaken the export of bananas to the UK, where they stopped mining their own coal during Margaret Thatcher’s time.
Nowadays, you can get just about anything you want in the local market. How about some nice eyeballs? I wonder whether these are intended to be fried, or boiled?
At Exito, our favourite grocery store, we can buy milk in a bag. Somewhere, I read that bagged milk originated in Canada - but I’ve never seen it in any other country. Here, we can even get UHT bagged milk!
On the street just in front of Exito, if you’re hungry, you can get some grilled sausages - right away. These look mouth-watering….
As we walk around the downtown core, there are many small streets, restaurants, cafes and speciality shops. How about this motorbike shoe advertisement? Normally, he’s driving around town, but this time we caught him parked right in front of the shop he advertises for.
Here’s something new. We’ve now been in the marina (the International Marina, I might add) for nearly 5 weeks. Every afternoon, about every 15 minutes, any day of the week, these local tour boats drive into the marina with a load of Colombian tourists, who are all rubber-necking to see the glitz and glamour of the exciting life that we lead. No shit. These people actually pay money to take a mini-harbour tour, the bulk of which occurs inside the marina, so that they can have a glimpse of us sitting in the cockpit living the life of a rockstar!
I’ve finally started working on “replacing the transom locker doors”. When I first put these doors in place in 1994, I stupidly welded the stainless steel piano hinge to both the transom and the door. It was not possible to weld all the way around the hinges as the hinge would bind. This trapped bare steel inside that eventually started to rust. I’ve been fighting a losing battle with this rust for the past 6 years, so I finally decided to do something about it. When in Canada this summer, I bought 4 replacement stainless steel hinges, and last week I contracted with a local guy to manufacture 2 new doors for me, out of lighter fibreglass. The doors arrived yesterday, but had to be taken back for some fine tuning. I’ve managed to cut the doors off and am working on cleaning up the steel around the frame. Phosphoric acid and epoxy will do wonders with that rust. In a week or so, it should all be finished - and at dock, not while on the hard!
We’ve been to see the Dentist. After nearly two years, we figured it was time for a checkup, repairs as necessary - and cleaning. We went to the office of Paola Zuniga, and Cecelia was our Dentist. The office is only about an 8 minute walk from the boat, and our Dentist spoke fair English and had a gentle manner. With the first appointment, Diane had a checkup and a cleaning, for about $ 50US. I had a checkup and filling repair (one that was originally done in Trinidad) for about $ 125. Why have we had our teeth checked, repaired and cleaned in the Dominican Republic (2010), Grenada (2011), Trinidad (2012) and now here in Colombia (2014) — and not in Canada? Its simple, we have no dental plan and its bloody expensive in Canada. Sure, as I was leaving the military, I could have signed up for the group dental plan, but I believe it would be a real nuisance to administer from a distance in the countries we visit. The other thing is that I don’t think its good value for money. Lastly, if we left our dental care to take care of when we’re in Canada, it would add additional pressure to an already short visit.
27 October 2014 Trek to The Lost City near Santa Marta, Colombia
We first met Tony and Jane Good on SV Capisce (UK registered) when in Bonaire in March 2014. Tony and Jane were also interested in going (some months later) to Santa Marta, Colombia - and they first brought to our attention the tourist highlight of “The Lost City” trek. Its important to mention this because if it hadn’t been for Tony and Jane, we wouldn’t have known anything about this Lost City trek. I should also add that when we left - Tony and Jane were “nowhere in sight” and we ended up doing the trek without them. When we were on Day 4 of the trek, Tony and Jane arrived in the marina. Paul and Andy Atkinson on SV Talulah Ruby III (UK registered) were on the same dock as us (and we’ve known them for months), so we set about on this trek as a foursome. The 2014 Superyacht Services Guide calls the Lost City Trek an epic adventure of “Indiana Jones” style, requiring six days to achieve. In the past month or so, we had done a bit of “training”, walking about town - but nothing could have prepared us for the real thing.
The Lost City of Teyuna (Ciudad Perdida in Spanish) is an ancient (built between the eighth and fourteenth century by the Tayrona Indians) ruined city located in the Colombian jungle near Santa Marta. Nowadays, only circular terraces covered by jungle remain, but the views and isolated location of this site make it extraordinary. Treks to the Lost City are arranged by only 5 tour operators, and we went with Guias y Baquianos Tour (GBT), the only agency that could offer an English speaking guide (in our case it was “Miller”) and apparently GBT was the first tour company to offer tours to the Lost City. All the tour operators charged the same price and trekkers seemed to float from one group to another, at the discretion of the guide - in order to respond to differing capabilities, injuries, weather and local conditions. Our cost was 600,000 Colombian pesos (COP) per person (about $ 300US). In addition to this cost, we chose to rent a mule to carry our backpacks. In fact, we had to rent one mule on the way up (100,000 COP or $ 50US), one mule on the way down (100,000 COP or $ 50US) and indigenous people to carry the backpacks on the last leg from Cabana 3 up to the Lost City and back (another 120,000 COP or $ 60US). In total, our costs were 1,300,000 COP (or $ 650US) for the trip, because we shared the extra mule costs with Paul and Andy. The actual trek is about 48 km long and the time taken is normally 5 days. However, the original tour was designed to be 6 days, but with younger backpackers and time constraints, it seems that most do it in 5 days. Having said that, there are some (maybe 10%) that do the trek in only 4 days and one of the guys who started out in our group (Pedro, an extremely fit young Spanish guy who trained specifically for this trek for the past year) did the trek in only 3 days. Due to heavy rains, our age and less than fit conditions - we opted for the full 6 day package. In fact, it doesn’t matter how long you take to do the trip, the price is the same. Helicopter tours used to be offered, but were discontinued in 2010 when it was discovered that landings were responsible for site deterioration.
On Day 1, we started by driving in the back of a heavy duty Land Cruiser as far as we could. The first 2 hours we drove around Santa Marta collecting trekkers and then finally the last hour (it seemed much longer) up high to the start point at the village of Macheté (or El Mamay). Then we walked about 5 hours to the first camp. This leg is designed to be about a 3 hour walk, but we experienced torrential rainfalls and the path was dangerous to say the least. At one point, I saw a fit Dutchman (maybe 40 years old) walk by me, confidently and rapidly walking along. Several hours later in the evening, I saw him in the Cabana/camp and he couldn’t walk a single step. Apparently, he had fallen in the mud and tore his groin muscle. The next day he was evacuated by mule because he couldn’t continue any further. His wife and daughter continued forward on mules.
On Day 2, we walked further still, passing incredible vistas, often walking on a ridge overlooking the river, but many times walking up the mountain, then down to the river, crossing it, and then walking up the next mountain. We passed by many indigenous people, the Kogies, as they are known, the legacy of the Tairona civilization - as we passed through several of their villages. We were prepared for this and brought candies to give to the children. It isn’t easy to tell the boys from the girls as they both have long hair and the same clothes but if you look closely, the girls sometimes wear a necklace. We stayed overnight at a Cabana or campsite at Mumake.
By 1100am on Day 3, we were at the base of the last mountain, the one containing the Lost City. Now we had some 1200 very steep steps (and I use the term step very loosely) to climb. These steps are chunks of rock placed hundreds of years ago. Most of them were firmly in place but the size of the rock and the rise between stairs was totally random. We could only walk about a dozen steps, stop for 20 seconds to catch our breath and carry on. It was incredibly difficult to climb these “stairs”. There are about 35 Colombian Army soldiers actually stationed now at the site of the Lost City. We heard that in 2003, a group of trekkers was kidnapped and held for ransom for approximately 100 days by guerrillas. In the end, no ransom money was paid but some concessions were made by the government, and of course, since then - it has been rare for foreigners to stay overnight in the Lost City.
At the Lost City, there are two Shamons, one religious and one political. We met the religious Shamon, his two wives and family. No, he didn’t speak English, but he did answer questions through our guide.
During the trek we passed many small streams and waterfalls, some of which we could swim in, and all offered incredible views. Many of the uphill climbs were very steep, where you had to walk hand over hand and take care with your footing. We met a few people who sustained injuries, sprained ankles or knees. In some cases they were able to carry on with a mule. We heard many stories of tourists over past years who had fallen and were injured or had died. Although the rain was welcome to cleanse your body and reduce the temperature, it oftentimes made the path extremely slippery, dangerous.
Every camp offered either beds or hammocks, sometimes with a pillow, nearly always with a mosquito screen. Our overnight conditions in the Lost City were the most spartan, with no pillows or mosquito screens and a dangerous 10 minute walk to the toilets. Every camp offered showers (direct water flow using PVC pipe from the extremely cold river or stream nearby) and toilets, many with actual toilet-seats. The meals served were basic but scrumptious after the intense activity of getting there.
Plenty of carbohydrates with rice, potatoes or pasta and chicken/beef or fish. Every camp offered beverages to purchase, other than the water or juice offered. One camp had a water/hydro powered generator. At one camp, Paul and I worked for about an hour to help troubleshoot their diesel powered 5.5KW generator. Apparently, it had not been working for 6 days. Someone had pulled the plug out and didn’t know which sockets the wires fitted into. It was a standard 115V 30A female plug (3 wire, ground/hot/neutral) with 2 bare wires inserted into it. After I figured it out, we had electricity for about 4 hours - and then it ran out of fuel….
I put mosquito lotion on my feet, ankles and legs every morning and night. Mosquitoes weren’t much of a problem on the walk itself, unless you stopped in a shaded, windless, overgrown area for more than a minute. Then they seemed to come from out of nowhere to bite you. The area of the Lost City itself was the worst for mosquitoes. Diane suffered more than me, and when we returned to the boat, her feet, ankles and calves were swollen.
Both Diane and I brought “baby wipes” to use as toilet paper. This was a good strategy because nearly none of the toilets had toilet paper, some didn’t even have seats. With “baby wipes”, you can clean your butt quickly, and efficiently using very little paper. However, I did find that during the day, while walking on the trail - I was holding back a bowel movement, the pressure was building! I was often on the lookout for a safe place to leave the trail and leaf selection was high on my list of concerns. Although I never had to leave the trail for an “emergency dump”, the possibility was always high!
Footwear was a big issue. Both Diane and I chose to wear the same kind of walking shoes that we have become accustomed to over the past 5 years - closed toe lightweight hiking sandals (mine were made by Merrell and Diane’s by Keen). The uppers of my shoes were made of neoprene. There were well suited to the wet conditions but not to the arduous uphill or downhill walking. When wet, my feet had little support and were sliding from side to side in the shoe. Also, since I wasn’t wearing socks, I developed some serious wear points and blisters that will take a week to heal. Diane suffered a “blow-out” with one of her shoes on Day 2 and the other on Day 3. Both of her soles just fell off the shoe. We tried taping them with duct tape (I brought a whole roll of duct tape along), tying them with string and even sewing the sole with a borrowed needle and thread.
Finally, when we reached the summit at the Lost City, we discovered that the man who runs the place was actually an “amateur cobbler” and he repaired both of Diane’s shoes with contact cement, an awl and polypropylene line. His repair (done at the end of Day 3) got her through to Day 6.
When we reached the base camp at the end of Day 6, I tossed my shoes in the garbage bin and reverted to my sandals.
Apparently, Colombia has the highest diversity of bird life of any country on earth and it quickly became apparent on this trek, with bright hummingbirds darting around, flocks of emerald green Toucanettes squawking - simply amazing.
I saw two snakes during the trek. Sometimes, I was walking out in front of the group, maybe 50m in front, maybe more. I saw one snake, a dark red coloured 2m long snake on rocks next to the river. He was about 2m in front of me and quickly slithered across the path in front of me, going under a rock. Another day, I saw a completely different snake, again about 2m long, but this one was dark brown and in a wet environment. He was in a small creek or stream and moved in the water and quickly hid amongst some rocks. Both times I tried to get a photo but the snakes were too quick and my camera lens was fogged up from either the persistent rain or the humidity. I should add that none of my pictures show the rainy/wet conditions. Although my camera is waterproof, the wet lens just doesn’t promote good photos and the fuzziness can’t be edited out.
We came across many of the indigenous people living in the area around the Lost City. These people have been chewing the leaves of coca plants (the same plants that are used in the production of cocaine) for centuries. When a young man reaches the age of 18, he is presented with his first “Poporo” - a device used for the mixture and consumption of coca leaves. The “Poporo” has two pieces: the receptacle, and the lid which includes a pin that is used to carry the lime to the mouth while chewing coca leaves. Since the chewing of coca is sacred for the indigenous people, the poporos are also attributed with mystical powers and social status.
The terrain varied a lot. Initially, we started out on a nice sandy path about 2 feet wide. This then changed to red clay (that became slippery when wet) and then red clay with rocks or gravel. Frequently, we were walking on gravel or eroded stone. In the past, there was a lot of mining for gold in this area and I’ll bet that the Spanish were annoyed when they brought back “fools gold” to their homeland, mistaking this gold glitter for the real thing.
I should say a few words about our guide (Miller) and cook (Luis), and also in the first four days we were coupled with another group whose guide was Mis-eye-il (I don’t know how to spell his name but this is the way it is pronounced phonetically. In short, their support was fabulous. Although only Miller spoke English, all three were always there to assist when necessary or offer help otherwise - spoken language was not a barrier to communication. The meals were hot, fresh and tasty.
Along the way, we had dozens of conversations with Miller about the history of the Lost City, and the indigenous people who live in the area. Miller himself was often chewing coca leaves, although he didn’t have a Poporo. Mis-eye-il is studying to be an Anthropologist and was a wealth of information as well.
In summary, we underestimated the difficulty of this trek.
Was it worth the effort? Yes.
Would I do it again? No.
Did I wish that I hadn’t done the trek, and not have sore muscles, blisters and mosquito bites - that’s debatable, probably - yes.
12 October 2014 Santa Marta - Colombia (Sunday)
We’re finally in Colombia, having made landfall on Thursday afternoon, 9 October. This is a view of the coastline, when we still had about 4 hours to go.
Meet “Vinnie” our pet (I use the term “pet” loosely) gecko. I can’t be positive that he/she is a gecko but he is very small (that’s my brown shoe next to on the right) and he does have little webbed feet (they don’t appear like claws). We try not to frighten him. We first noticed him onboard (never below deck, always outside) in Chaguaramas Trinidad in August 2013. Since then, he has been spotted in Venezuela, Bonaire, Curaçao and now —— we’re waiting to see if he survived the trip to Colombia. He has never been “declared” to Customs and Immigration so I suppose he is a “stow-away”.
Our departure from Curaçao was delayed by a full two weeks. As usual, if we’ve been dockside for several months, in the days prior to departure - all systems are tested. Seals dry up and batteries go flat, so we have to check everything. Despite this, on the morning of our forecasted departure, our Volvo sea water cooling circuit wasn’t working. There was no sea water coming out the exhaust, which only makes the engine usable for a few minutes. Once it starts to heat up it has to be shut down.
I tracked the initial problem down to a broken rubber impeller in the raw water pump. When changing the impeller, I had difficulty reinserting one of the six bolts, the threads were bad - so, I simply swapped out the pump (and got new bolts a few days later). There are currently about 1450 hours on the engine and when I swapped the pump out, I put in “the available spare”, which was the original pump (circa 1993) that had about 1200 hours on it (that I had reconditioned with new shaft seals and a new impeller two years ago). After priming the lines with fresh water from the garden hose, then the testing began. I found that the pump was working, pushing sea water into the cooling circuit (transmission cooler, oil cooler, heat exchanger, exhaust elbow) but not through the circuit to the exhaust. I suspected the problem was a dirty oil cooler and heat exchanger pair and called in Joe’s Boat Worx to remove (I know how to do it now) both components and take them away for muriatic acid flush and ultrasonic cleaning. Joe was busy working on several other boats at the same time, so this took a while - and then we found a leak and had to have it welded, etc.
Finally, on 6 October, we were ready to leave again. The system had been put back together on the previous Friday and I tested the engine, Saturday / Sunday and again on Monday. We left the marina and drove to the fuel dock at the Curaçao Yacht Club ($ 1.08 per litre or $ 4.10 per US gallon) where we accidentally “scrapped” the port side of the hull and broke a stanchion (dragging one of our fenders which I had tied to a stanchion) in the process. For the hull, it is nothing a little buffing compound won’t fix - and I do have several spare stanchions.
We have always made a big deal out of checking the weather for this 349nm passage Curaçao to Santa Marta - as it is known to be one of the most difficult in the world. But, in this case, we were so keen to get out of Curaçao and see a new country that we were willing to accept nearly any conditions. We ended up travelling West on the back side of a tropical wave (which worked out well) and there is one about once every 10 days or so. The result is that we had 15-20 knots on Monday afternoon, 20-25 knots on Tuesday, 15-20 dropping to 5-10 Wednesday night and finally 0-8 knots on Thursday morning. The waves were peanuts, really. We had lots of lightening (cloud to cloud and cloud to water) on Wednesday night and finally a squall that dumped a lot of rain on us for a couple of hours and squall winds only to about 32 knots. From Wednesday night until arrival in the marina we were fighting a 2-3 knot current. It was so strong, on arrival at the marina, I dove down to check on the propellor as I thought it might have become fouled with a fishing line. So, with the motor running, no wind, and an opposing current of 2-3 knots - our arrival time was retarded. 349 miles in 70 hours gives an average of 5 knots, largely influenced by the 3.5-4 knots we were making in the last 18 hours.
The wind and waves were big enough to cause a bit of uncomfortable motion at times and unfortunately the starboard side jib sheet slider block broke. Nothing a good welder can’t fix with a TIG machine - and I seriously doubt I could actually find a replacement anyway. We were able to quickly design an alternative solution while sailing.
Now, we’ve been “on the ground” for three days and have wandered the streets a bit. Here is Diane with our friends Andy and Paul (from the UK) posing in front of the shoreside.
There is quite a nice waterfront here, with both an industrial port and several beaches. Wikipedia describes the history and geography of the area. The salient points are that it is the third largest city in Colombia, having been founded in 1525 - and has a population of about 454,000. The country of Colombia, has a population of over 48 million, which surprised me. There is a lot of history here.
Along the waterfront, we saw many people out enjoying the sunset and fine weather.
I don’t have any concern with security when I see Police forces on Segweys and armed soldiers standing around.
As we were walking around downtown, the most unusual thing I saw was this huge bottle. It was standing in a regular sized doorway, and the bottle was at least 6 feet tall. I have no idea what could be in that bottle or how they move it around.
We’re going to enjoy staying at Marina Santa Marta for “a while”.
17 September 2014 Curaçao - Seru Boca Marina
We’re still at the dock and working away at jobs in preparation for moving to the anchorage and then sailing west to Colombia. Our departure will be “soon”, estimated to be in less than a week.
One of the jobs I tackled was replacing the fuel polishing pump. Way back when we were in Venezuela, dockside, our fuel polishing pump “burned out”. This is a small, low pressure diesel pump, used to circulate the diesel through our Racor filters. If the Volvo hasn’t been running for a few months, this is a handy way of self cleaning the diesel fuel. The problem is that its difficult to find just the right pump. When this pump burned out about 10 months ago, I just put it on the list of things to acquire when we were in Canada for the summer. Before leaving, I ordered one from an Internet supplier and presto, it was waiting for me on arrival in Ottawa. This model is a Walbro FRA-1 industrial fuel pump and much more suited for the task than the last pump. I’ve been running it for 10 hours at a time. It doesn’t heat up and is “pulling” the fuel through my dual Racor filters just nicely.
Diane and I do a lot of reading, nearly all of it using electronic books on our Kindles. Earlier this year, I finished reading ALL of Stephen King’s novels. That’s a lot of books! This past week I finished novel number 20 in the Master and Commander series written by Patrick O’Brian. The Hollywood movie “Master and Commander - The Far Side of the World” was loosely based on number 10 of 20. I found them to be a very good read, although I did have to use the Kindle’s built-in dictionary quite a bit for the old-English vocabulary. These books should be read in sequence.
1. Master and Commander
2. Port Captain
3. HMS Surprise
4. The Maruritius Command
5. Deslation Island
6. The Fortune of War
7. The Surgeon’s Mate
8. The Ionian Mission
9. Treason’s Harbour
10. The Far Side of the World
11. The Reverse of the Medal
12. The Letter of Marque
13. The 13 Gun Salute
14. The Nutmeg of Consultation
15. Clarissa Oakes
16. The Wine Dark Sea
17. The Commodore
18. The Yellow Admiral
19. The Hundred Days
20. Blue at the Mizzen
Now I’m reading “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson and Sue Grafton’s detective series “A is for Alibi”, “B is for Burglar” etc (I think there are 22 in total).
I’ve installed a new “lighting option” in the cockpit, now making four options. The new one is an IKEA LED strip light, 12V DC, without the power puck. It is neatly installed with marine silicone to seal the joints and adhere the strip to the underside of the steel dodger. It brings a lot of light into the cockpit, particularly welcome during mealtime.
I think I’m finally finished repairing/overhauling the mainsheet traveller. Years ago, I bought an Australian-made FICO mainsheet traveller, car/track/end stops from a reputable chandler in Canada. In time, I discovered that although this was the largest system produced by FICO (which has now closed its business), it was still undersized for our boat. In fact, looking around at other boat’s equipment, I have yet to see what I would consider appropriate. The car “came apart” when we were sailing from Halifax to Bermuda five years ago and I undertook a repair while in Bermuda. Now, the end stops have split in half because the assembly is a composite of aluminum and stainless steel, and dissimilar metals never do well in salt water.
I bought eight stainless steel Suncor sheaves off eBay a few months ago and hauled them back from Canada to complete the job. Here they are on the stairs, awaiting service. Aren’t they shiny?
Here are photos of the completed traveller car and end stop, with the new sheave wheels and fitted to the deck. No water leaks and I’m hoping it is a sturdy enough installation.
We had some distressing news a few days ago. We have been slowly following in the wake of some Australian cruising friends of ours (Steve and Liz Coleman onboard SV Makoko) that we met in Trinidad last year. Here is an excerpt from their recent email:
“Hello there from Sydney. We have some bad news for you about Makoko/Amiable
that has cut short our sailing this year. Briefly, this is what happened:
In the early hours on Sunday, 3 Aug, in a confined anchorage at Anchorage
Island, Suwarrow, the Cook Islands, with driving rain, zero visibility, and
winds gusting 35 to 40 knots, "Amiable" broke her anchor chain. To avoid
hitting other yachts anchored around us, we decided to follow our GPS track
and head out to sea. On the way out when a 40 knot gust hit Amiable we then
hit a reef.
We tried for an hour to get off the reef, but our winged keel was wedged
tight. We packed our grab bags and put life vests on and called for other
yachties to come and get us. They decided it was too dangerous to come so
we had to sit there until daybreak came some four hours later, before a
dinghy came the 400 metres from shore to collect us. Without doubt it was
the worst four hours of my life. I really feared for my life.
I hitched a ride to Pago Pago in American Samoa to try and deal with the
insurance company, as communication in that part of the world is
non-existent. Steve stayed in Suwarrow for 10 days making sure that
everything was taken off the boat and to minimise any potential damage to
the reef and waters, as Suwarrow is a national park. Then he jumped on a
friends boat and was taken to Apia (Western Samoa) before flying to Sydney.”
Incredible, our friends Steve and Liz have lost their boat, thankfully, they are alive!
It has now been 5 1/2 years since we sailed away from Canada. Since that time, we’ve met a lot of interesting people from many different countries. Some have sailed a lot (around the world) and some only a little (Florida to Bahamas). Unfortunately, we can now say that we have met people that have been robbed, shot, became ill and postponed cruising, became ill and stopped cruising, returned to work to boost the cruising kitty, were lost at sea (and presumed dead), lost their mast/rig (storm), lost their boat due to sinking, and / or died. After much deliberation, we have decided that unless a fresh obstacle arises, we will now establish our next cruising goal - to reach New Zealand by November 2015.
6 September 2014 - Curaçao - Seru Boca Marina
Monday: We returned to the boat after two months in Canada. Once we opened the hatches and port-lights, the interior aired out nicely. There was no smell. The decks were so dirty, we had to wipe some areas first before we could sit down. The temperature and humidity are a big shock after being in the cool Canadian climate this summer.
Tuesday: In the morning, we pressure-washed the boat, removing about 90% of the sand and dirt. Then, we put up our sun-shades, all 5 of them. Although they are quite “lively” in the wind, they are very effective at reducing the sun and heat inside the boat. Next, I mounted our new Emergency Position Indicating and Reporting Beacon (EPIRB) right next to the old one.
When we sailed away five years ago, we bought a new EPIRB - but they only have a working battery lifespan of 5 years (at least to the 5 year point they will continue to operate properly but beyond that, they have a much reduced output, and for a safety device like this, its all about reliability). When we next go back to Canada, I’ll bring the “old” EPIRB with me, and send it in for a battery change. This is not something a user can do - and this way, we’ll always have an EPIRB or two. Then, I repaired/replaced the aft head pump, a Whale Mark 5 Henderson pump. We have two heads, so having one non-functioning for a day or two is no big deal. We bought a replacement one locally, for about $ 245 - although I do have a spare onboard - I’m loathe to use my spare when there are chandleries available. Those chandleries won’t be available in the South Pacific! We also picked up some groceries with our rental car (only 2 days) and brought back two replacement outboard propellors that I had ordered, one for the outboard and one for the spares locker. Then, I put away all the spares that we brought back from our trip to Canada, and finally, I mounted a new Canadian flag and then took a shower at 4 pm - exhausted from our first day back to the boat.
Wednesday: Things were starting to slow down. We drove to “Florida Express”, the Curaçao office of Cur-Ant shipping (a freight forwarder operating in Miami). Our new anchor chain and bottom paint (for touch-up purposes when we next haul out) is physically here, but has yet to clear Customs. We decided to turn our rental car back to Budget, and let Florida Express deliver our chain and paint (probably 600 pounds or so) the next day. In the afternoon, I serviced our Tohatsu 18 HP outboard (cleaned fuel filter, changed spark plugs, replaced lower drive gear oil). By 1700 the day was done and I finally had a rum and coke!
Thursday: In the morning, we reassembled, inflated and launched our dinghy. Then we mounted the outboard motor and fancy new bar/lock (shiny stainless steel).
Next, we tackled a long outstanding issue - to provide support for a pot on the stove, when underway. Our Jenn-Air stove is not gimballed, it is fixed in position. We bought a pair of pot holders manufactured by Dometic, for their Origo alcohol stoves. Of course, this didn’t really fit out situation, but I produced a piece of wood/plastic trim to mount the pot holder on. This is what the “Mark 1” version looked like:
While working in this area, Diane discovered some scrapping/sliding noise inside the stove element. This is never a good sign. When we took it apart, we discovered that the steel brackets that are designed to hold up the heating element had nearly all rusted their rivets out (possibly due to boiling over pots?).
After cleaning the whole assembly and then reinstalling with new rivets, it looked good enough for another few years.
Then I went back to the pot holder, and added a length of plastic tubing to “surround” the pressure cooker (our likely pot to be used when underway) and now we consider this job done to satisfaction.
Friday: In the morning, our new chain and touch-up bottom paint arrived. I had ordered two - 250 foot lengths of ACCO 3/8 G4 chain from Discount Wire and Sling in Florida (while we were in Ottawa in early August) - shipped right to our stern in Curaçao for $ 3.85 per foot plus shipping costs (shipping by Cur-Ant/Florida Express at approximately $ 250, it was combined with some bottom paint). I set about measuring, marking and painting the chain on the dock. We’ve done this all before, several times! I also pulled out the old anchor chain (3/8” BBB bought in May 2000) and gave away a 250 foot length to Tony on SV Capisce.
On Friday evening, we were invited to dinner aboard SV Capisce with Tony and Jane, and were pleased to see our friends Ron and Babbie (from SV Campechano), whom we last saw in Grenada 3 years ago. It is a small cruising community.
Now, we’re truly “back in the saddle” and itching to get moving West……
21 June 2014 - Curaçao - Seru Boca Marina
We are now safely berthed a Seru Boca Marina, for the next three months. The marina is isolated, quiet and very secure. Its good value for money if you stay for at least three months ($ 11US per foot, plus 6% tax, plus metered water and electricity). Curaçao uses 50 cycle 110V and 220V power. We’ve never plugged in the boat to 50 cycle power before..… Our Magnum battery charger / inverter is tolerant of 110V power in the 50-70 cycle range. Unfortunately, the actual power at the dockside is 49.2 Hz and my inverter/charger won’t connect. Therefore, I’ve gone to Plan B, bringing in power to a separate panel (I’ve got a spare reserved for just this kind of scenario) where I’ve wired in just the hot water tank heater and a separate medium sized battery charger, special equipment just for Li batteries. I run the inverter for the A/C loads during the daytime and put the battery charger and hot water tank heater on at night. I can even run the battery charger and the inverter at the same time which can by handy if the microwave is running since it draws about 170A DC from the battery bank. In fact, the load from the kettle, toaster, blender, or TV/stereo is just fine, but its the microwave that is the big one. If we have to cook more than about 90 seconds with the microwave, it would be better to just turn the generator on rather than use the inverter to supply the microwave.
Seru Boca Marina is quite a nice place to stay, but they don’t really cater to live aboard cruisers. The marina wifi doesn’t work and the showers (one for men and one for women) has no “hot” tap, so you get room temperature water - which is fine, during the day. I haven’t been impressed with the skill of the Captains driving in or out of here either. Almost, no scratch that, 3 of 3 sailboats that I’ve observed coming in or out have bumped/grinded their way along. Is it too much wind, too narrow, or too little skill? I hope we’re tied up out of the danger zone!
Here is one of the “long-term” tenants, a trimaran with a wing sail. These are very rare to see. There is nobody on the boat and it looks like it has been here for several years based on the barnacle growth.
Before I forget, I have to write about the Spaniard on SV Sabir, or at least about how he drives his dinghy through the Spanish Waters anchorage. He has an inflatable, with a hard bottom - a Rigid hull Inflatable Boat (RIB) with a 5 or 6 HP outboard. What is interesting, is how skilled he is at driving this dinghy through the anchorage by simply shifting his weight from side to side. He doesn’t need to have his hand on the tiller or even use one of those annoying cables with a kill switch. Please don’t try this at home!
Our ONAN generator failed again, the alternator - again. There was a bit of smoke and a burning smell for about 5 days. I opened up all the cases and had a look and could see no reason for the smell. I even took apart the raw water pump and heat exchanger, no evidence of any problems. So, I called in Joe’s Boat Worx and he found the problem. Well, he was sitting right beside the generator when we fired it up and his head was about a foot from the alternator. Joe told us to immediately shut it down.
The alternator was coloured caramel, instead its normal white. It was way too hot to touch, after only about 30 seconds of operation. When I took it apart later on, the wiring on the rotor was all melted.
Joe said that not only was the alternator burned out, but also the regulator. Since replacements were going to cost me over $ 1,000 I opted for a simpler solution. Joe installed an idler wheel ($ 220) to replace the alternator (so that the engine coolant water circulation pump would turn) and I installed an external, economical 110V A/C powered battery charger, for about $ 60.
On Wednesday, we had “one of those days”. In addition to the long list of tasks that need to be completed at dockside, where the wind is light - we had the shore water inlet and pressure transducer break (suddenly spraying valuable metered fresh water), and then I discovered that our outboard motor has a “spun” propellor (and subsequently discovered that the spare I’ve been carrying around for the past year doesn’t fit) and the coup-de-grace was that a small pepper-spray container that I’ve had tucked away in my backpack for the past two years (bought in Martinique) has been slowly leaking over the past few days. The pepper spray was the worst issue, by far. Just taking the canister out of my bag, I got a few drops on my hands, and this stuff eventually (over the period of a few hours) migrated up my arms and to my face. I was burning up for most of the day, and it only dissipated after several long showers and an overnight sleep. The backpack, of course, is going to be very difficult to clean. I’ve even found a brown spot on the chair at the nav station and on the carpet, as it has been my habit to hang the backpack on the back of my chair when not in use. To make matters worse, Diane was pressure washing my backpack and our neighbours (who were completely unaware of the pepper spray leak) started to complain that their eyes were watering - they were downwind about 30 feet away.
We’ve discovered “The Pier” restaurant and bar, and they have a nice special on Thursdays with half price drinks and a Captain’s special meal (for 20 Guilders). This seems to be our “haunt” on Thursday evenings.
During my boat building phase (1992-2002), I became friends with Allan and Kirsten Skjodt in Caledon East. Sadly, they were forced to sell their boat “SV Great Dane” due to personal circumstances. At Curaçao Marine, I discovered their boat laying up on the hard - and for sale. Unfortunately, I’ve lost touch with the Skjodts over the years. Too many moves ……..
This will probably be my last post for “a while” since we’ll be flying back to Calgary on 4 July. We’ll be visiting with our relatives John and Joy Ceelen in Rocky Mountain House, picking up car and then driving back East to Ontario.
1 June 2014 - Curaçao, anchored in Spanish Waters (Area A)
Well, time for another blog and as usual, we’ve been fairly busy. First, the project to replace the gasket material under the jib and staysail tracks (port and starboard) is finished. The cost was only a little over a hundred dollars for some 3M 5200 polyurethane sealant and Starboard, but it is a great relief to start and finish a project that I had been delaying for so many years. For the month that this project was on the go (with lots of deck holes exposed), it didn’t rain a drop. The perfect time.
This is a view from our bow looking aft, in a Westerly direction in the Spanish Waters anchorage. Today, it hasn’t been very sunny, but mostly overcast.
Now for a bit of drama …..
As I may have said before, all cruisers we’ve met have been average people from all walks of life. There is a Spanish flagged boat next to us and when we arrived 5 weeks ago, there were 5 people on board. Two people left, and then there were 3, 2 men and a woman. A few weeks later, and then one of the men left - after we heard shouting and screaming from the woman (a Dutch woman, who presents a very poor image by the way). Last night, there was more shouting and loud noise (all coming from the woman) and then this morning - there is only 1 remaining — “Peppi” the owner of the boat. Hmm, just like a soap opera isn’t it? At dusk, he was piling all her stuff into the cockpit, and then into the dinghy. By all accounts, she is a “hand-full” and by now has probably found herself a cozy little niche under a coconut tree by the beach. I’m not kidding.
Yesterday, we went downtown again to see the sights. First, we took a city bus, at a cost of 1.75 NAF, or $ 1US.
We visited the Maritime Museum and then took a 50 minute harbour tour to see the commercial and industrial side of Curaçao. The Maritime Museum is neat and tidy, just as you would expect from the Dutch. We had a guided tour and the woman gave us the history of the museum as well as the changes in Curaçao over the years.
The Maritime Museum is basically just across a canal from the Customs House (Douane) where you’ll always see Venezuelan fishermen tied up at the wharf.
There is lots of colour in the downtown buildings and this appears even more prevalent along the waterfront. There are many restaurants and cafes and we could easily find something in our price range for lunch. In addition to the luxury shops selling Swiss watches and Italian handbags, there are also bakeries and Chinese “dollar” shops.
With our harbour tour, we got to see a section just North of the city that isn’t easy to see from land, the industrial port and the refinery that I mentioned in the last post.
We also passed by the small Dutch naval base, where I took notice of the many building roofs covered by hundreds of solar panels. Impressive.
Back in our anchorage, I took a couple of other photos. First, here is a “deep sea” pipeline layer. Although it is not “in” our anchorage per se, it is visible from the anchorage and just a short walk from the fisherman’s pier. Its quite an impressive piece of machinery and seems to be undergoing maintenance and “reloading” for the past few weeks. This is something right out of the Discovery Channel.
Finally, I’ll close with this photo of some locals with their home-made party boat. Not surprisingly, they seem to stay pretty close to shore with this vessel.
16 May 2014 - Curaçao, anchored in Spanish Waters (Area A)
Time is flying. I can’t believe it has been 23 days since my last post!
We had an easy sail from Bonaire to Curaçao, downwind, at last. The next day our friends Tony and Jane Good on SV Capisce showed us the way downtown and we cleared in. Since then, we’ve been touring around the island, taking in walks and geo-caching, going to happy hour, playing dominoes and of course - fixing stuff on the boat. The holding in this anchorage is great, and we’re not going anywhere until 16 June when we move just a short distance to Seru Boca Marina (also in Spanish Waters).
First, a little history/geography describing our location. Curaçao is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands with a population of over 150,000 on an area of 444 km2 (171 sq mi) and its capital is Willemstad. Prior to 10 October 2010, when the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved, Curaçao was administered as the Island Territory of Curaçao, one of five island territories of the former Netherlands Antilles. The original inhabitants of Curaçao were Arawak peoples and the first Europeans recorded as seeing the island were Spanish. In 1634, after the Netherlands achieved independence from Spain, Dutch colonists started to occupy the island and it eventually became home to a Jewish community as well. The natural harbour of Willemstad proved to be an ideal spot for trade in the Caribbean. Royal Dutch Shell sold its oil refinery to the local government for 1 Guilder back in the mid-eighties and to this date it’s daily operation is leased by the Venezuelan State Oil Company PDVSA.
Curaçao lies outside the normal hurricane belt, but has on a few occasions suffered from extreme rainfall when brushed by the edge of a storm. The humidity here is noticeably less than Trinidad, or the Eastern Caribbean for that matter. This chart shows the annual climate.
This chart (courteous of Frank Virgintino’s Guide to the ABC islands) shows where Curaçao falls with respect to the historical hurricane tracks.
Curaçao has an open economy, with tourism, international trade, shipping services, refining, storage (oil and bunkering) and international financial services being the most important sectors. Curaçao's economy is well developed and supports a high standard of living, ranking 46th in the world in terms of GDP per capita and 27th in the world in terms of nominal GDP per capita. While tourism plays a major role in Curaçao's economy, it is less reliant on tourism than other Caribbean countries. Most tourists originate from the Eastern United States, South America and the Netherlands.
Downtown Willemstad is a very pretty city and is easily recognizable from its colourful buildings. Walking across the floating pontoon bridge between Otrabanda and Punda will present you with beautiful vistas.
Together with Tony and Jane Good on SV Capisce and Paul and Andy Atkinson on SV Talulah Ruby III - we’ve done some geo-caches in the area around Spanish Waters. - and drank a few beers. This also presented some different photo opportunities.
Here are Tony and Jane …..
Here are Paul and Andy ….
And then we go geo-caching …….
On our tour around the island (we rented a van for the 6 of us, at a cost of approximately $ 100US per day), we saw the Kueba di Hato (Hato caves) and a few other sites. Its a pretty big island.
This is a “big old kapok tree”, probably about 600 years old.
In downtown Willemstad, we found the line of Venezuelan fruit and vegetable stalls. We’ve been missing these for months.
One boat project that I’ve got on the go is to “re-bed” the staysail and jib tracks, 4 in total. These are the tracks that are on the side decks, that have “movable cars” on them for the staysail and jib sheet tracks. A long time ago (circa 2000), I used ultra-hi-molecular weight plastic (UHMW) as a bedding or isolating compound (an aluminum track on a steel deck invites corrosion). However, the plastic just hasn’t lasted as well as I had expected in the sun. It is all cracked and “just waiting to fall apart”. I’ve been delaying this job for years. Now that we’re anchored in a place where it hardly ever rains, I’ve decided to go ahead with this low cost, but time consuming job. At this point, with Diane’s help, I’ve managed to remove, cleanup and re-bed half of the tracks (2 of 4). The interior of the boat is a bit of a mess with pieces of trim removed and headliner taken out. I’ve used Starboard this time around as a gasket material. Let’s see how long that stuff lasts.
Of course, there are lots of iguanas on this island but it seems to be a challenge to find a sizeable “live” one during the dry season. Believe it or not, we’ve seen many dead ones, that apparently died of dehydration.
23 April 2014 - Last Post from Bonaire
We arrived on 8 February and are rapidly approaching the three month tourist visa limitation governing our stay in Bonaire. We’ve done a fair number of dives whilst here, 41 for Wade and 31 for Diane. In addition to SCUBA diving with each other, we also dove (or dived as the Brits would say) with Tony on SV Capisce (UK flagged), Brian and Paula on SV Magique (Canadian flagged) and Paul on SV Talulah Ruby III (UK flagged). In summary, Bonaire has lived up to its reputation as one of the best diving locations in the world.
In the Eastern Caribbean, we nearly always needed (by law) to hire a local guide for diving. That made the dives cost (per dive, per person) $ 40 - $ 60 US depending on the island/location and outfit. In Bonaire, we are permitted to dive from our own boat, or dinghy, or even shore dive with a rental car (which we never actually did) - all without a guide. Since we had all our own gear and you are not obliged to hire a dive guide, our diving costs were limited only to the cost of tank fills, at approximately $ 6 per fill.
Early on, we went to a couple of REEF fish identification lectures, given my Kim White (who also runs the Caribbean Safety and Security website) and she inspired us to take more effort when diving to identify fish. That motivation, and armed with our new GoPro camera - enabled me to take hundreds of videos and still photos - and then try to identify the fish! What follows is a lot of fish pictures, where I’ve done my best (and oftentimes aided by Diane) to label the creature(s) that we encountered.
I had yet another problem with my ONAN 6KW generator. This time, the alternator seized, causing the belt (that turns the alternator and the internal water cooling pump) to quickly burn up. I removed the alternator and took it ashore where an auto shop took it apart and replaced three bearings. After that, the alternator seemed to work just fine. It seems that there is a lifetime limit for those bearings, 15 years and a little over 900 hours of run-time. The generator was only out of commission for a few hours and the cost of repair was under $ 60. A complete replacement of the alternator is more like $ 600 and I’m still wondering whether that is worth the cost.
Another issue worth mentioning is that SV Joana is filthy dirty, inside and out. We haven’t had a decent rainstorm since we left Trinidad in November. What little rainfall we’ve had in Bonaire has only resulted in sand/mud streaks. The decks are so dirty, we’re going to resort to washing them in salt water, with a fresh water rinse - when we reach Curacao. Mooring on the leeward side of Bonaire means that the sand and dust that blows off the surface of this island is deposited on our decks!
For those who follow in our footsteps - our Internet provider was Splash Wifi ($ 60 per month is the best rate) which we connected to from our boat when moored just 4 balls South of the Yellow Sub Dive Shop. They say that you can get free Internet if you moor just off Karel’s Beach Bar, but then you have to suffer when they have a live band. Another option is to buy Digicell 3G coverage, but then you’re into serious bandwidth limitations. In general, the Internet that we’ve used in Bonaire has been crap, and went off frequently, sometimes for as much as 24 hours ….
Our next destination is the anchorage of Spanish Waters in Curacao.
12 April 2014 - Bonaire
Wow, it has been a whole month since I last blogged. We’re still in Bonaire, still diving and doing other things. I’m still collecting underwater photos and identifying fish. In addition, it seems that once or twice a year, I pull the video clips together and make a short movie or video. This project, diving in Bonaire, drew from hundreds of short video clips that I made, nearly all underwater. Please have a look at my Bonaire diving movie on YouTube.
We also went on our first “geo-cache” with two other boat couples, Paul and Andy Atkinson on Talulah Ruby III (UK flagged) and Brian and Paula Cullinan on Magique (Canadian flagged). We were first informed about geo-cache by Andy and Nichole Scheidl in Ottawa about five years ago. It seems that there is a world-wide following of people that hunt for and maintain geo-cache sites, for the purpose of fun, exploration and exercise. Paul, armed with a portable GPS and the precise geo-cache coordinates, led us on a 2.5 mile hike to find the “treasure” up in the hills. One challenge is actually getting to the site without knowing which roads to take (it can be illegal, dangerous and downright difficult to go across country), and the second is actually finding the little container and the “treasure”. Without too much effort, we did find the cache, a plastic thermos, with some little trinkets inside. It was a fun outing, and we definitely got our exercise.
Doesn't look like much grass to cut .....
While hunting for this geo-cache, we came across some of the local wildlife, one of the many lizards on the ground and a nice parrot in a tree.
I also had at least one “boat repair” project. Our ONAN generator would mysteriously shut-off after a few minutes of operation. I checked fuel levels, changed fuel filters, checked oil levels and pressure, checked coolant levels, changed fuel tanks and even cleaned out the tank air vents — but the problem wasn’t fuel (it usually is with a diesel), it was with sea water. It seems that the raw-water pump impeller broke up so the pump wasn’t effective enough. The motor would start, but wouldn’t stay running. Most of the time, it would make sense to just change the impeller (a spare is about $ 20) but with this generator, I have to remove the pump to change the impeller, so I just swapped out the water pump for my spare —— problem solved. Why the impeller failed, is another story. I noticed the shaft was leaking seawater (these Johnson pumps only seem to last about 300 hours before they start leaking), so I “reconditioned” the pump with new seals a week earlier. At that time, I noticed the wear plate that the impeller rubs against while turning was getting a bit thin. That thin wear plate broke up, and that’s what tore up the impeller blades. However, I don’t have any of these wear plates, and Johnson doesn’t include them in their pump rebuild kit. After swapping the pump out for a new one, I then bought 5 wear plates on the Internet, and will have these available for “next time”. While troubleshooting this problem, I found a sea-water hose that had no hose clamp on it (that is risky). It seems that the previous clamp, after being sprinkled with salt water at an unknown time in the past, completely disintegrated. I cleaned it up and put on a new clamp. I’ve got to keep an eye on these things!
When we’re not diving, sometimes we find time to play dominoes. Here, we’re playing mexican train dominoes on the UK flagged S/Y Talulah Ruby III. Its windy and sunny, and a great venue for dominoes for 6 people in the expansive cockpit of a Jeanneau 57.
Every since we arrived in Bonaire, we’ve noticed the regular arrival at dusk of a clever crane. He (or she) flies in a dusk and sits on our neighbour’s surfboard / windsurfer. It seems like a great place for him to eat his dinner and observe what’s going on, at low risk. This time, he arrived just a little early, early enough so I could catch a photo of him.
We’ve seen advertisements for eZone throughout the Caribbean but never looked deeper. Here in Bonaire, I was having difficulty finding the right diving camera (only 17,000 inhabitants so the shopping choices are limited), so I went into the DHL office to inquire about shipping — and it happened to be co-located with the eZone office. I signed up for an eZone account (free) and then “went Internet shopping”. I bought my camera on eBay and had it shipped from New York to the Miami “freight-forwarding” address. From there, eZone shipped it to Bonaire by plane. The flights from Miami leave Mondays and Fridays to Bonaire. My costs were $ 279.99 (for the GoPro camera), $ 10 (eZone shipping charge, Miami to Bonaire), $ 7.50 (insurance), $ 23.80 (8% sales tax for Bonaire). There were no other charges, particularly none for duty. By the way, the Bonaire Customs Officer told me that Bonaire does indeed respect “yacht in transit”, but if there are any duties applicable, the agent pays them up front and then recovers the money after the yacht leaves the island. Sales tax is another issue, and apparently unavoidable.
12 March 2014 - Bonaire
Diane and I have been enjoying the scuba diving in Bonaire. Our new GoPro3 Silver Edition camera arrived just yesterday, and I’m still experimenting with that. In the meantime, our “limitless holiday” continues.
The largest supermarket (Van den Tweel) has arranged for a cruisers shopping bus on Saturday morning and Tuesday evening. Most of the time we use this free bus since its easier to carry back the groceries. We’ve actually walked to Van den Tweel a couple of times but you don’t want to carry any heavy packages in the hot sun. That, plus our outing on the scooters a few weeks ago - is our only vehicular experience on the island. The grocery store is very well setup and gets its fresh produce in on Thursdays. Most of the products are European, or of Dutch origin - but that’s great. We were missing chicken sate, Nasi Goreng and Gouda cheese!
The dive shop we’re working out of is the Yellow Submarine, part of the Dive Friends group. We’re buying mostly air from these guys, and it works out to about $ 6 per fill (with a $ 120 - 21 fill card), quite cheap - considering. We’ve also bought a few things from their retail store, like a “shaker” for Diane’s BC and a new fish identification book. Both of us are now diving with lycra suits (no neoprene) and a small “beanie” or “hood” for our head. Just having your head covered seems to make a difference. The water temperature isn’t “cold” but it does appear cold on a longer dive. One thing about the docks here in Bonaire is that there doesn’t appear to be a suitable “dinghy” dock. All the docks are fixed (not floating) and they’re high off the water. Lifting the empty tanks up from the dinghy to the dock and taking the full ones down into the dinghy is a bit of a workout, not to mention a balance challenge. The tidal range is about 3 feet, so what you can see in these two photos is the “mid-tide” difference in height of water and the dock.
We were in town a week ago and happened to see the carnival participants. I took some photos. The costumes were colourful and the music was loud - but thankfully not “ear-splitting” like in the Eastern Caribbean.
We’ve met a nice couple (Brian and Paula Cullinan) from St John New Brunswick) on SV Magique and have been walking, diving and hanging out with them a fair bit. They’re “seasonals” so will be laying up their boat as Spring approaches. They’re still waffling on somewhere between Bonaire, Curacao, Columbia and Panama. Seasonal cruisers tend to be on their boat anywhere from 4 to 6 months per year, and spend the rest of the time back “home”. Now that I think of it, everyone we have met in Bonaire have been seasonals. We haven’t met any full-time cruisers.
I had a problem with my boat 12V navigation computer (a PC that is dedicated to navigation and communication by SSB and Pactor and is powered by 12V) requiring me to replace the 3V battery on the motherboard and reload the operating system and all programs. You see, there is a small “watch” battery (CR2032) on the motherboard that retains the CMOS settings in the BIOS. Since this computer gets so little use, and is rarely turned on - the battery died after only 3 years — the CMOS became corrupt and I couldn’t start the computer anymore. I’m just about finished with that project but the lesson to be learned is simply to leave the circuit breaker ON for this computer. This doesn’t leave the computer running, but just with a trickle of electricity, enough to keep the battery up.
This morning, we had another dive on Klein Bonaire, and I took more than 200 photos with my new GoPro3 Silver Edition camera. Photo selection and editing takes time, but I’ve been through them quickly and can offer these 3 photos (otherwise it will take me too long to post this blog). I really like this camera. I’m also going to shoot some underwater video in the coming weeks.
24 February 2014 - Bonaire
Roger and Phil Chaylt come for a visit
As planned, Roger Chaylt and his son Phil (from Timmins) came for a week long visit, and arrived on 15 February. Roger and I go “way back” to grade school years and then on through high school. In fact, it was on Roger’s first boat, an O-Day 21, that I first learned to sail and sampled the cruising life (as a 20 year old) - which of course has become much more refined with a toilet, refrigerator, freezer, washing machine, TV, Internet etc. Roger and Phil came to dive, and dive we did. Every day was a new day, with nearly an endless number of dive sites to choose from on the reefs of Bonaire.
Sometimes we dove from the stern of our boat …..
Sometimes we, or they - dove from our dinghy …..
At the end of every dive day, crew and guests were treated to smoothies (with or without coconut rum), “dark and stormys" (rum and ginger beer), rum and coke, wine, iced tea, soft drinks or water (if desired). It was very easy to please anybody. Here, Roger and Phil try a “Dark and Stormy” for the first time.
One day, we were treated to bagels with salmon and cream cheese for lunch, courtesy of Roger and Phil - who were keen to do their part.
At the end of every dive, we were entitled to a fresh water rinse on the stern of our boat. I remember from Roger’s trip to the Bahamas years ago (where he and his wife Carole and all 3 kids sailed through the winter in the Bahamas on a Jenneau 27) that he also valued the importance of a daily fresh water shower. However, with a smaller boat, the water tank was correspondingly smaller and an insecticide sprayer (instead of a shower head) was used to dispense the water. Here, Roger demonstrates his preference for a proper shower head.
The last dive of the week was a night dive for Phil and I - off the stern of our boat. Roger snorkelled at the surface, on security patrol. Phil and I saw several large tarpon, like large dogs following us around. Roger also saw them from the surface, looking down, but thought they might have been small sharks. We heard them every night hunting the smaller reef fish. They were quite active in the early evening, and we could see schools of fishing jumping at the surface and scrambling to avoid being eaten by the predators.
At the end of the week, both Roger and Phil had more than doubled their diving experience and Roger had transitioned from Mr Cautious to Mr Confident.
The day before flying, marking their second last day on the island, rather than diving - we chose to rent three 50cc scooters ($ 25US per scooter, per day) and explore the island. Naturally, one of the first stops was to KFC, where Roger cannot deny that he went to KFC while on his holiday! I can confirm that the menu was the same as in Canada, but noticeably more expensive.
As we were driving along the coast, we came across many of the dive sites that are easily accessible from the water in our dinghy. Alternatively, many people rent crew cab pickups and dive from the shore. Here’s a sign you won’t see back in Canada.
We did a perimeter visit of the Washington-Slagbaai park, in the North of the island. Here, Roger was perplexed as to which washroom was for men, and which for women.
The island has very few trees, but lots of cactus. There are some palm trees, noticeably near the resorts and tourist ares, but I never saw any bamboo. That illustrates how very little rainfall the island gets.
Bonaire still produces salt from an evaporation process and seawater. Here, we see large piles of this harvested salt awaiting distribution.
Back in the mid eighteen-hundreds, slaves used to do this work, and these are the huts they lived in.
In the Northern port of the island, it gets a little hilly and quite picturesque.
On the South East coast, we had a look at dozens of tourists enjoying the world-class windsurfing with shallow water and constant trade winds. Here are Phil and Roger on the beachfront.
On the South West coast, kite surfers enjoy flat waters (they are in the lee of the island) and constant trade winds. Here, it looks like Phil is talking up his father — maybe next year kitesurfing Dad?
Sadly, I’m unable to provide any underwater photos to document the many dives that we did. I did take a few with my SeaLife underwater camera, but then my batteries died. Would you believe that after several days of looking and many phone calls, I was unable to find AA Lithium batteries on the island of Bonaire? After consulting with Diane, we decided that this was the opportunity for a technological upgrade, and ordered a new GoPro camera — to be arriving “soon” (ordered through West Marine in the States - for delivery through eZone). In the meantime, I’ll offer this photo of a Bonaire iguana - who was trying to be “unseen”.
14 February 2014 - Bonaire
As planned, Jimmie and Christine Thom joined us in Puerto La Cruz on 3 February for our passage to Bonaire commencing 5 February.
We gave them the first afternoon free, since they had been in transit during the night and were quite tired. On Tuesday morning we gave them the full Venezuela experience by taking a perquesto (shared taxi) to the municipal market and loading up on perishables (vegetables, fruit and rum). We will miss the quantity, quality and price of the Venezuelan markets. In the afternoon, we had to go to the Port Captain’s office to clear out, and put Chris and Jimmie on the boat “zarpa”. We even managed to score a bottle of Baileys on the return, a rare find indeed.
Unfortunately, this blog is a bit "photo-challenged". Christine (the official blog photographer) used her iPhone and initially we were challenged to offload the iPhone photos to any device. After solving that problem, when loading this blog, I discovered that the original iPhone orientation could not be changed using my blog software. This means that photos of the boat or people were either upside down, or laying on their side. This means that I've had to remove photos that I was planning to use. Nice photos, but 50% unusable by this blog.
Our passage took us from Puerto La Cruz, to Bonaire, by way of Los Roques and Los Aves - as described in the last blog entry. It was an uneventful, but pleasant cruise, with NE or ENE winds of 15-20 knots (in our favour). We rarely used the engine and much to our surprise, it even rained several times!
Our first anchorage was Cayo de Agua in Los Roques. Normally, one should first clear in at Gran Roque (for a trip within the Los Roques park), and in fact I already had the clearance fees (1950BS) prepared. However, we were short on time and didn’t want to head up to Gran Roque first. Therefore, although I had the money ready, nobody came to claim it. We anchored in 18 feet, with a sandy bottom.
There was a bit of a NE swell, but we all slept well. We saw turquoise tinted water, turtles and fish —— very clean water for the first time in months! If it hadn’t been for the time constraints and the strong NE trade winds blowing, we would have been inclined to stay longer. We saw local Venezuelans holidaying on the beach, and it appeared that they had been transported there since they all disappeared at the end of the day.
The next anchorage was Isla Oeste in Los Aves - Barlevento. Again, we anchored in 14 feet of crystal clear turquoise coloured water with a sand bottom. The anchor was set fairly well and certainly dug in overnight as the winds pushed over 25 knots. Unfortunately, everybody but Jimmie had a poor sleep as the swell rose at about midnight and made the anchorage uncomfortable. On 8 February, we hauled anchor and passed Sotavento - enroute to Bonaire.
This was our opportunity to hoist our Canadian flag, as we cleared Venezuelan waters and the risk of piracy dropped considerably.
We arrived in Bonaire in the afternoon. We took a mooring ball (anchoring is forbidden in Bonaire) and enjoyed the sunset from Kerels Beach Bar along the city waterfront.
This is NOT a photo from Karels Beach Bar, but rather two nights later.
We’ve heard that there are primarily two things to do in Bonaire, dive and drink. Naturally, after clearing in, our first stop was to the Dive Friends dive shop (Yellow Submarine), only 100m from where we were moored.
Jimmie and I dove from the front of the dive shop, then off the stern of our boat, and then again the next day on dive site 22, Andrea II. The dive sites are clearly marked all around the island.
Most of Bonaire is surrounded by a pristine coral reef. There are lots of fish, and turtles. We are just getting started. We are now “recharging” and looking forward to our next visitors - my friend Roger Chaylt and his son Phil. destined to arrive on Sunday 16 February.
31 January 2014 Puerto La Cruz - Venezuela
We’re still in Puerto La Cruz (PLC), but leaving in a couple of days. We’ve very much enjoyed our stay in Venezuela, but its time to move West.
Our friends Christine and Jimmie Thom are flying in Monday to join us as we depart PLC for Bonaire. The exact route and timing of our cruise is still under consideration, and of course - weather dependent. Christine and Jimmie’s flight path will take them Ottawa - Toronto - Caracus - Barcelona - PLC (last leg by taxi). No doubt they’ll be tired on arrival, and that’s OK, because we’ve got nothing planned for them on Monday. However, on Tuesday, we do intend to take them to the municipal market and downtown PLC - filling in the time while our agent gets our departure papers in order. After all, Christine and Jimmie are here also to experience a bit of the gritty Venezuelan life that we’ve been living for the past three months - not just for the sailing.
We have a number of different web sources that we use for the weather, but with a cruise that lasts 7 days, its difficult to have a reliable forecast for the entire period. The first 3 days, sure, but beyond that - you can’t expect it to be accurate. We’ll be able to fetch weather grib file data using my single sideband radio (SSB) SSB, while we’re underway and anchored in remote areas - and I’ll do that. This is an example of the weather we should experience. The two red circles are the departure and arrival points (PLC on the right and Bonaire on the left). The winds are expected to be in the 15-20 knot range. To the West of us (the yellow section), the winds are considerably higher, in the 30-35 knot range near the Columbian coast. Thankfully, we’re not headed there, at least not yet.
In the meantime, in preparation for this 7 day cruise, Diane and I have been stocking up. We’ve been buying whatever we can squeeze into whatever little cubby holes remain on the boat. Most things are cheap in Venezuela, and stocking up will pay dividends later on. Here’s the little red grocery trolley that we bought when we were in Brussels ten years ago. Its really handy here in Venezuela, particularly at the market downtown.
We made a final booze run. As you can see in this photo, we got a case of beer, 4 bottles of rum, 2 bottles of coconut rum and 4 bottles of wine (Chilean), all for about $ 60 US (a very good haul).
This photo gives you an idea of what we hauled (using the marina dock cart) from the grocery store, for $ 66US. Well, you can’t see what’s in the bags, but trust me, there is a lot of value here. Note in particular the two bags of toilet paper. Yes, its in short supply, but you can get it.
We have a Home Hardware hand-pump and vacuum sealer, as well as a more sophisticated electrical vacuum pump and custom bag sealer. Diane uses both regularly.
We’ve met some friendly cruisers from Victoria BC Canada - D’Arcy and Isabelle Boulton on SV Ideal 1 (a Hans Christian 43). D’Arcy and Isabelle have been in PLC (at TMO) for a few months and left from their home about 18 months ago. Their journey has taken them down the West Coast of the US, the Pacific side, along Mexico and Central America - passing through the Panama Canal and moving East (against the prevailing winds) to Venezuela. Some of the ground they covered six months ago is “in our sights”. They took us for a dinghy ride through the Casa Bote area (the canal system at Puerto La Cruz). Here is a photo of D’Arcy and Isabelle on their boat.
These are some of the photos that I took on our dinghy ride through the Casa Bote area. Some of the homes are obviously middle class (affordable to us), but then some of them are obviously on the unaffordable scale, draw your own conclusions.
There are other preparations of course, one of them is to scrub the bottom - a task that I normally do but am loathe to do it in the marina. The water in the marina is generally quite foul. There isn't a good tidal flush, there is often oil/diesel/gasoline on the surface and then there is always some toilet flushing somewhere. Here is Louis Diaz, Señor Crocodile - the resident bottom scrubber and general underwater yacht maintainer.
I can’t believe the black-market exchange rate will stay as high as it has been. Something has to give …..
The Venezuelan Government has just passed laws intended to counteract black-market currency trading. Previous benefits announced during the Chavez years provided businesses and citizens an annual limit of dollars they can purchase at the official exchange rate for imports, travel ($3,000) and other purposes. A few days ago it was announced that the official-rate dollar allowances for foreign travel and internet purchases abroad will be reduced. The government aims to reduce the amount of state dollars lost to travel currency fraud. Under a scam known as “the scrape”, citizens have been travelling abroad with official-rate dollars (now priced for travellers at 11.30 Bsf = 1 USD) (that they got at the bank). Then they receive the dollars in cash by swiping their card and taking a cash advance - but, instead of spending the money on holiday, return to Venezuela to sell the dollars on the black market for over ten times what they originally paid for them. The official-rate travel dollar allowance for closer travel destinations has been reduced. For a holiday longer than eight days the allowance for travel to Florida (Miami) is now only US $700 (down from $ 3,000), compared with $2,500 for those travelling to other parts of the United States. You can guess what will happen now, citizens will suddenly be inclined to visit their relatives in New York instead of Miami, because they can get $ 2,500 (bought with Bolivars at the rate of 11.30 - 1 at the bank). Then, they won’t even get on the plane, and just take the dollars and sell them on the black market at 70:1. The annual allowance for online purchases abroad has also been reduced, from US $400 to US $300 per credit-card holding citizen.
18 January 2014 Puerto La Cruz - Venezuela
Mochima National Park
Yesterday, we took a day trip with 10 other cruisers aboard one of the Bahia Divers SCUBA boats. Within an hour of Puerto La Cruz, one can find many bays, inlets and islands that make up the Mochima National Park. On the weekdays it is very quiet, but we’ve been told that the area is buzzing with Venezuelan tourists on the weekends. I noticed that the beaches have lots of tents and umbrellas planted, getting ready for the weekend flurry of activity.
The first stop was a delightful anchorage on Isla Chimana Segunda, at the western end of the South coast. There is a red and white lighthouse on the hill and the vistas are definitely worth the 50 minutes or so it takes to hike up there.
Lots of cactus and rough rocks are on the trail, but unfortunately I didn’t see a single iguana (although Diane did see one). It is extremely dry here, so bugs are not an issue.
This area has literally dozens of pristine anchorages, that could be enjoyed by cruisers looking for solitude and peaceful waters, but unfortunately the security situation in Venezuela makes this an unsafe proposition. The murder rate in Venezuela has quadrupled in the last 15 years, making it the country with the fourth highest homicide rate in the world. There are contrarian views though, this one is definitely worth a look at.
At lunch-time, we stopped at one of the many restaurants that are setup along the beach and we enjoyed a very economical seafood dinner. Diane and I both had a generous serving of fried calamari, coleslaw and bread, with drinks, for less than $ 10. Sure, it would have been cheaper on the mainland, but we had the views.
Later in the afternoon, we went snorkelling in what I believe was the coldest water I’ve come across since being in the Bahamas four years ago in the winter time. I was so cold, I swam with my arms folded across my chest, trying not to lose any body heat.
I’ve looked ahead and verified by Internet that the water in Bonaire is a bit better at 79-80 degrees fahrenheit. Now that we’re out of the Eastern Caribbean, I’m expecting the water temperature to be a little colder, but this winter it is especially cold with the poor weather we’ve been having.
There are still lots of Venezuelans that have boats and use them on a regular basis.
Good news, two weeks from now, we will be met in Venezuela by friends Jimmie and Christine Thom, who will be flying all the way from the frigid cold of Canada to join us as we sail through Los Roques and Los Aves to Bonaire. In Bonaire, we’ll be joined by Roger and Phil Chaylt - for the diving.
10 January 2014 Puerto La Cruz - Venezuela
People are starting to email me to ask if we’re alright……….
After all, we’re in “dangerous and crime-ridden Venezuela” and I haven’t written any content to my boat blog in 19 days.
Short answer - GREAT.
Long answer - not much to blog about.
My ear surgery has healed over and I’m very pleased with the results.
We did have Christmas dinner, together with some cruising friends Harold and Diana. We enjoyed a traditional turkey dinner with stuffing, gravy, potatoes and cranberries. We always have a turkey at Christmas. We’ve also been going to the weekly “pot-luck” BBQs every Wednesday. Here are a couple of photos from the BBQ area (during day-time).
Diane and I have been contributing to Venezuela’s local economy by shopping for food, clothing, shoes, small boat repair projects, etc. During the Christmas season, a lot of the shops were closed, and some are still hanging a sign that says closed until 15 January. Yesterday, I bought two “Under Armour” shirts (these are the new fabric with moisture wicking and built-in SPF), 3 pair of Columbia shorts and a pair of Crocs, total cost under $ 50. In Canada, the Crocs alone would have cost me about $ 40, plus tax!
I discovered a small seawater leak (noticed some brown, rusty water) in my ONAN generator raw water cooling circuit. I traced the problem down to a few galvanized fittings, particularly one that was fitted to the bronze Groco water strainer.
This is an absolute no-no. Do not connect dissimilar metals together in salt-water. When I was building the boat, we were in fresh water for many years, plus it was impossible to find the right plastic fittings in the area where we lived. I remember that the surveyor said it was acceptable, but keep an eye on it. Its easy enough to get bronze but when you look closely, the smaller end pieces are actually not bronze but brass - and brass is just about as bad as galvanized steel for corrosion and electrolysis in salt water. Nonetheless, I noticed the drip, tracked down the problem and replaced the fittings with the correct locally acquired plastic adaptors. No fuss.
I’ve been making a fresh smoothie for each of us every day. The basic ingredients consist of a combination of one or more of the following items, all fresh and all readily available: pineapple, banana, papaya, passion fruit, raspberry, strawberry, oranges, mandarin oranges, cream and ice cubes — oh yeah, and sometimes rum or even better — coconut rum, at least if its late enough in the day. I can’t say I’ve had a bad one yet!
We continue to observe the iguanas in their natural habitat. Every day, we bring them the cuttings from our freshly made salads, coleslaw or whatever off-cuttings of green leafy vegetables they might enjoy. These two look rather frisky, wouldn’t you say?
Roger Chaylt and his son Phil have booked flights to join us in Bonaire 15-22 February for some of the world’s best scuba diving. Jimmie and Christine Thom are currently in the negotiation stages with us and “may” join us for the passage as we leave Venezuela for Bonaire, passing through Los Aves and Los Roques. We’re looking forward to the passage, and the company of friends.